For the faint of heart: I am a 51 year old female, first time, one training year wannabe with a long-held desire to complete an Ironman. I did so on November 3, 2012, Ironman Florida, in 15:49:55. The end.
For the braver among you...
We arrived in Panama City Beach on Wednesday, October 31. Barry and I checked in at Laketown Wharf (Great rooms, close to Ironman central, only complaint is sparsity of elevators. Two banks at opposite ends of enormous complex). After we got The Girl (my bike) upstairs, I walked to registration.
They bought off my nerves off with charming volunteers and great swag: an Ironman Florida tri backpack and license plate frame. OOHHHH...
Had a ART (active release therapy) treatment for my hamstring and shoulder. I have no pride. I am lying in full public view while the therapist gets his fingers into my hamstring which probably looks like he's doing something completely unprofessional, but in reality is only a hairsbreath away from exceedingly painful. I've had a lot of trouble with inflammation at the insertion point - this did not flare up during the race, so yay to my random ART helper and Dr.Giuseppe Giovatto who treated me during Clearwater training.
Picked up my BFF Lynn D'Asta at the Fort Walton Beach airport (allow 1.5 hours from PCB).
On Thursday, Barry volunteered all day at registration. It was a tight contest, but he is my favorite volunteer.
Lynn and I went to Mass for All Saint's day, then drove the bike route. The roads looked great, the bridge similar to Clearwater's, three or four rolling hills and the cracked road I'd heard about miles 50-60. I didn't think it looked that bad.
Ha ha ha, you foolish, foolish girl.
Back at the condo, Lynn and I methodically over-pack my transition bags.
I was careful to separate things into ziploc bag categories, so the "you-never-know"s didn't interfere with getting into the "necessaries". I was slightly embarrassed by the bulge of my swim-to-bike bag, but the T2 was nicely compact.
Thursday evening was the athlete dinner, featuring normal hotel buffet food and very crowded seating. It was almost impossible to move between the tables once others were seated.
The pep rally portion was inspirational. It was great to hear some Ironman stories, see a "Pump you up!" video. I was disappointed to learn only 35 athletes participated in Ironman Foundation - one can race for a cause, fundraising with the help of the Foundation. My cause was Cystic Fibrosis, the Boomer Esiason Foundation.
Athlete meeting next - snagged a sweet seat in the VIP section. For some reason, the presenters rushed through the material. What? What?!! For the first timer, it was a little crazy deciphering the details. As an obsessive reader/researcher, I had enough "experience" through race reports, two friend mentors, and books to piece it all together.
Late Thursday night, Barry drove back to the airport to pick up my eldest daughter, Amy. Other than super fan and sign designer, she also functioned as official team photographer, and is therefore not pictured in any of the images. Love you!
Friday awoke with a knot in my stomach. It wasn't that I had any specific fear thoughts; I seem to have conscious control of my anxiety. SUBCONSCIOUSLY, it appears to be a completely different story. I could not eat, so I put in what I could, but did not meet my pre-race meal plan.
Dropped off The Girl and transition bags. Took a morning swim in the ocean - saw two large, gorgeous pink jelly fish and did a "yikes!" full stop in the water. Good to get that shock out of the way - never saw one in Clearwater.
Best decision all day: Endurance Nation seminar. In my hunger for all information, these coaches provide a bonanza of gratis online materials I found extremely beneficial. Their seminar was motivating, amusing, and informational. In the end, the concepts of "staying in my box" and "you will have problems" were pivotal to my Ironman finish. Very grateful for their generosity.
Had a Skype interview with Amy's 4th graders. Best question: "Are you doing this for money, or for fun?" Best moment: Audible group gasp when I revealed I am a decrepit 51 years old!
Took an evening walk on the beach, but was feeling the tension. Did some yoga stretching and gentle rolling of the IT bands and quads, but nothing seemed to help.
Did not sleep - or perhaps dozed a little, but mostly was awake, fighting nausea I am sure was anxiety. Prayed, breathed, changed from the bed to the sofa - nothing helped. By 4 a.m. when I got up to eat, I couldn't manage any breakfast. I drank my FRS energy drink, but felt very sick.
Barry is my rock. He got up, was this oasis of calmness, reassuring me. We both figured once I started, the physical exercise would knock out the anxiety and my stomach would return to normal.
Went to transition, dropped off my special needs bags. Pumped up the bike tires, filled the water bottle. The Girl was ready to roll.
Since the condo was so close, we returned so I could wiggle into my wetsuit in peace. Yank, Yank, tug, tug - Barry grabs and pulls - and I'm in. I grab another FRS and a GU and we head back to the start.
I'm still not fearful per se, but emotionally overwhelmed, and nauseous.
Barry and I take a moment to pray before I enter the corral.
The swim conditions were challenging. The safety boats were rolling in some decent swells. Chop danced across the water. The current was very strong from right to left, so I positioned myself two thirds of the way back around some women, and about two thirds towards the right barrier.
Pros start. National anthem. Sun rises. Cannon reports. Swimmers attack - 3000 charging the water, moving en masse along the buoys.
My mind was closed to everything except starting the swim. All shut down except moving forward and focusing on technique. I guess I was "in the box". I didn't have too much trouble with the crowded conditions - someone swam over me when I had to stop when the guy in front of me stopped - I swam next to another man for a long time, but the close quarters in pool practice (thank you Vision Quest coach, Marcia Cleveland for creating open water crowd conditions in our lanes!) prepared me for this and I liked turning my head and seeing him every other breath, keeping pace. The draft was outstanding - I stayed well within my abilities, no shortness of breath or chest tightness. I probably could have gone harder, but felt great, so stayed the course. The swells were big enough I could feel the swim UUUPPP and swim DDOOOWWNN. Later, I probably spoke with a dozen people who, with an odd pride, shared they vomited during the swim.
I did NOT need to know that.
Coolest moment - hitting the shallows approaching the turn around, I was swimming with a petite woman just to my left. Her pace was great so I focused on keeping up and drafting with her. As we exited the water, she ran to the chute, and I had to turn to begin again. The announcer said, "Miranda Carfrae exits the water!" OHHH! I was swimming (for two minutes) next to one of the best Ironman pros.
Second lap was tougher. I worked very hard fighting the current. Hooked up with a couple groups, but mostly was swimming alone and hard. Here the open water Clearwater swimming really paid off, especially the rougher surf days near the end. I was happy and positive when I ran through the swim finish.
Amy, Lynn, and Barry had spots immediately behind the volunteers. I was so into the race I did not understand the sign "Jesus walked this part!" I thought it meant walk to transition. Instead, it referred to the swim. Oh, I get it. He walked on water. Very funny, now!
Bless the volunteers - super fast wetsuit strippers. I wish I had a set of these every swim!
Long walk through the showers, around the bend, over to my transition bag, and into the changing building. I would guess I was at the back third of participants, so plenty of space and volunteers in changing area.
And off I went...
Had to play close attention first 10 miles - many potholes and such to avoid.
The bridge was no big deal, and I enjoyed the speedo clad young men who cheered us on.
The winds were not bad for the pros and fast age-groupers. However, for the long-cyclists like me, wind speeds picked up throughout the day, and sadly changed direction. I was mentally prepared for this from the forecast. So the start of my ride north, the wind was in my face. Turning West, my MPH popped up. I was in a great cadence, comfortable, but still fighting my stomach. I threw up twice, and since I'd never done this on the bike before, I discovered it is hard not to hit one's self or one's bicycle when this occurs.
When I reached the "oh, this is not so bad" bumpy road, I discovered that on a bicycle, it is bad. Very bad. My hoo-haw area was already unhappy, and the BUMP, BANG, BUMP BUMP was extraordinarily unpleasant. I tried aero, I tried upright; I couldn't get much speed, and was busy avoiding the bottles, gu's, tubes, and other flotsam from this road's havoc.
When I reached special needs (56 miles), I got my bag and went to re-stock my fuel. I realize I am massively behind nutrition - had only eaten four gu, two cookies. I was about 500 calories short. As I was exchanging items and refilling my front aero bottle, a female athlete asked me if I had chamois cream, "I'm in AGONY!"
I shared my packet, but as I did so, got out of rhythm, and must have dropped or set aside the rubber cap for my aero bottle. This is a large cap that one can turn a bottle upside down on and fill when riding. I took it off to put in some concentrated calorie gel and water.
I did not even realize it was missing until I started to ride. BUMP. SPLASH. BUMP SPLASH. Yikes. I pull over. I can't think straight. I decide to ride back to see if I can find it.
Now I'm not thinking at all. I've lost 15 or more minutes. I feel I have to ride.
SO, RATHER THAN EMPTY THE BOTTLE PARTIALLY OUT...
I get back on the bike and endure four miles of...
BUMP. SPLASH. BUMP. SPLASH...until I'm laughing at myself and this ridiculousness.
That's when the Endurance nation info kicks in - I calm down and start thinking.
I am struggling with bonking due to poor nutrition. I am biking into the strongest wind direction and up and down the only course hills. I am covered in sticky sugar. It was sunny and fairly warm; I had trained in high 80 heat and humidity and don't think this is affecting me too much, but I am warm. I lost my biking pals and am fairly isolated, feeling like I might not make the 5:30 p.m. deadline.
I want to quit. I want to stop and lie down and sleep. I think "I can't go on."
I pray, and it helps me focus and problem solve.
I need to get more nutrition. No matter my nausea, I was going to down a gu every six miles.
I need water and not to be splashed - stop at each of last three aid stations, fill bottle half way and drink the rest.
I need to stop feeling defeated and focus on why I am racing. The thought of my waiting husband, daughter, and friend; my Mom; my kids at home, worried by their computers; my amazing friends tracking me; my brothers and their families, especially my niece Julia, a staunch supporter of me and my CF fundraising - at that small, terrible, alone moment in time, I find solace. They are all present - powerful in their thoughts and prayers, riding with me.
I ate, I prayed, and about mile 80 I felt better and my pace returned to normal. I pictured my usual ride, a 32.5 mile loop. I realized I had exactly that many miles to go, so I mentally pretended I was going point to point. I had done it a dozen times in training. All I had to do was complete the route one more time.
I start to pass a number of people, and distracted myself with chat, encouragement, and laughter. Thanks, Caroline, for a great conversation (yelled back and forth from the required seven bike lengths, although I don't think the refs were bothering with us at that point).
I cannot express fully the hoo-haw agony at this point. OW. OW. OW. Enough said.
The wind turned from the south, so all but one small pre-bridge stretch was into winds that had picked up.
Over the bridge, passed an athlete walking his bike up. "How you doing?" I yell.
"Great - what a view!" He waves toward the water.
Now that's a cup half full, I'd say!
Turning into town, had a tailwind. Nice rest and relief for last 10 miles.
Seven hours, 45 minutes after I began cycling, I hit the dismount line. I walked my bike to a volunteer. "Please burn this. I will never ride it again." We all laugh (I was half serious), and I toddled off to transition.
A motherly, caring volunteer took me under her wing. I had wet wipes, and she told me to get my face - dried snot and sugar. Great. I accidentally wiped my neck where I had a wetsuit burn. The volunteer BLEW ON MY NECK to soothe it and ran off for vaseline.
Are these the world's greatest people, or what?
Changed fairly quickly, ran out to mug for Team Baker (their love and encouragement energizes me - I LOVE YOU), used bathroom (from curiousity rather than need; I want to make sure I could still pee. Despite the pain, everything did indeed still function).
So, ten hours into my Ironman, I start the marathon. I try to run (my strongest leg)..no go. I'm still nauseous. I follow Endurance Nation advice.
I drink the coke.
By mile three, I can run a little. I decide to try a thirty count run (about a minute) and a thirty count walk.
I become obsessed with this.
I do not stop counting unless I am chatting with someone for a few minutes or stopping in the bathroom (TMI ALERT! I now had gas and was terrified of "sharting" (pooping while farting)).
And the counting works. I'm consistently between 12 - 13 minute miles, and considering the circumstances, I'm fine with that!
Darkness falls when I'm in the state park. The sunset has beautifully colored the sky, and I have a short moment of appreciation. My focus has narrowed to the step count and to reaching the turn with plenty of time for the second 13.1 mile loop.
At the run start, most walkers I passed were exhausted second loopers. Near the end, I found more on my round. To keep myself distracted, I tried to time my walking breaks to meet up with another athlete and converse for a few minutes. Most were enthusiastic, some...not so much. One prompts me to try to the chicken broth - I do, and it is WONDERFUL. I still push my gu's in, but the broth eliminates my stomach pain. I LOVE CHICKEN BROTH. I LOVE COCA COLA.
At the turn around, Barry finds me and runs alongside as we circle by the special needs bags. He is wonderful. Best husband in the world. Seriously. Amy and Lynn are around the corner, and they cheer me on. Barry tells me later they were impressed with how good I looked.
Had them fooled!
Second loop is a blur. Kept up my run/walk for 10 miles. Spoke with many athletes, passed about 200 total on the "run". Volunteers, spectators, tri coaches wonderful, encouraging, amazing.
After turn around in park, I know I will finish.
Three miles out I develop a serious side stitch, so gave up running and walked. I could hear the announcers calling out the finishers' names.
Just outside of the chute, an older man yelled for me to run. I still had a stitch...
I start to run...
I never felt the stitch again...
The spectators cheer, pound the rail, and hold out hands for high fives...
I start to cry...
of Clearwater Florida...
My "catcher" guides me to the medal presenter.
He then very gently asks me my shirt size. HUH?
Luckily it is written on my bib.
Then I get a foil cape-wrap. I'm pretty hot, but appreciate the thought.
Catcher leaves me in line for my picture. I am behind an incredibly perky young woman, dancing and wearing a tutu.
Inside, I am dancing and wearing a tutu.
Outside, I am dazed and confused.
I can't eat, so we head for home. Barry and Lynn escort me, while Amy documents the occasion.
Team Baker is outstanding. Lynn forcefully gets me a place in the condo elevator. Once in the condo, it is into the ice bath.
Lynn helps me stay in, and Amy distracts me by showing me the video of my finish. Kayla (daughter) recorded finishers for an hour before I crossed the line so she wouldn't miss it. Kayla calls, in tears. Christopher (son) calls.
Lynn and Barry get me out of my clothes and into the shower.
I DO stink.
Lynn brushes my hair while I get the teeth.
Under the covers - and more covers - and more covers - the chills have set in - Lynn brings me crackers and a banana. My team listens to my ramblings but starts to yawn; I look at the clock and it's nearly midnight. Off to bed, dedicated Team Baker.
For the second night, I cannot sleep, but now I am at peace.
I am an Ironman. I am grateful to my family and friends, most especially my loving husband who trained alongside me for much of the journey and supported me throughout. Lynn and Amy - you made the day for me! Kayla and Christopher - knowing you were watching me, praying for me, kept me going. Amy was posting to facebook all day, and so many people I love tuned into Ironman live to see the finish. I was astounded by the support and long-distance participation. I was never alone. Thank you volunteers for your astonishing investment of time and emotion.
I am an Ironman!